The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

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Sri Lanka’s quest for meaningful reconciliation

A witness giving evidence at the sittings of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission

Fifteen months after a “reconciliation” commission submitted to the Sri Lankan government its recommendations following a probe into the country’s final years of the 1983-2009 civil conflict, little has happened according to local civil society and a recent UN report.

Of the dozens of suggestions from the government-appointed Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), few on justice and reconciliation have been pursued, and investigative attempts have lacked independence and impartiality, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“LLRC opened a great window for change for Sri Lanka. These recommendations must be used, but there is a disturbing level of lethargy at the moment,” said Victor Karunairajan, a community activist from Jaffna, heart of the country’s former conflict zone in the north where separatist rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, had fought for decades until their defeat in May 2009.

Investigations into ongoing abductions and killings of human rights lawyers, activists and journalists are scant to non-existent, said Jayasuriya Weliamuna, a senior member of a national lawyers’ collective working on human rights.

In the state’s response to the UN report’s discussion of extrajudicial killings, it said: “The generalization made highlighting a few isolated incidents as a spike in reports of abductions and disappearance in the period [of the] last quarter of 2011 to mid-2012 is inaccurate.”

Trust lacking

Rajiva Wijesinha, a parliamentarian and adviser to the president on reconciliation issues, admitted state building activities - notably infrastructural repairs in the still recovering north - have outpaced nation-building. “There are still problems, and the mutual satisfaction and trust that reconciliation require are still inadequate,” he told IRIN.

Stalled implementation of the LLRC recommendations has been due to the lack of formal procedures in the mistaken belief that “the real business of government is conducted by the efficient [civil servants] working on their own.”

But the problem is the lack of such efficient problem solvers, said Wijesinha. “There are not so many efficient people around. They get overwhelmed and are unable to fulfil everything they take on. The problem is compounded by the fact that, at lower levels in public service, there is less willingness to take decisions. Even though there are many able people, the system does not encourage them to work on their own initiative to achieve results.”

The government presented an action plan in July 2012 that addressed only a limited number of recommendations.

Wijesinha faults the lack of a formal structure for halting progress. “Without a proper structure… there has been no process of taking regular stock of achievements and ensuring remedial action when things were slow.”

Wijesinha said he hopes the recent reconvening of the inter-ministerial committee in charge of implementing the recommendations, its change in leadership, the establishment of monitoring mechanisms and just-launched consultations with civil society, will speed change.

Ramesh Nathan, 56, a secondary school teacher and community activist in Jaffna, is less optimistic. “There are a lot of talks and excuses going on at both [the] UN and governmental level but nothing is really happening on the ground in terms of accountability. To me the statements and talks… all seem like a political game. Ultimately, people in Sri Lanka will be the ultimate losers.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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